A restoration project on Whit Beck near Lorton five years ago has been hugely successful in supporting Cumbria’s native salmon and trout populations, newly published research shows.
West Cumbria Rivers Trust led the 2014 project to restore a heavily modified section of the beck to a more natural course, in partnership with the Environment Agency and Natural England. A 350m stretch of straightened and raised river channel was diverted to a more natural course 1200m in length. The goals were to create high quality habitat to improve biodiversity and reduce the level of gravels reaching the river Cocker to reduce flood risk. Before the work the riverbed was unsuitable for fish to spawn in because it had very uniform habitat with fast flowing water and very few areas of gravels. Re-meandering the stream to slow the flow, allow gravel deposition and restore natural features created ideal conditions for Cumbria’s native fish.
The Trust has monitored the site through its annual fish surveys and the latest results show that Whit Beck has become a vital salmon and sea trout spawning site for the River Derwent catchment, which spans an area from Workington to Thirlmere. The Trust surveyed 157 sites in 2018, four of which were in Whit Beck. Over 400 salmon and trout fry – 7% of the total counted across the entire region – were found in the restored section of beck.
Ian Creighton, Project Officer at West Cumbria Rivers Trust, said: “Not only was this project a massive success, it remains a massive success. It’s become a fantastic spawning area for salmon, trout, lampreys and minnows, which in turn are attracting species like the kingfisher and otter. The overall river ecosystem is much healthier.”
In the survey the restored section of Whit Beck received a maximum ‘A’ rating as a fish habitat under the National Fishery Classification Scheme, which means it’s in the top 20% of sites in England and Wales for salmon and trout.
Wild Atlantic salmon numbers have plummeted over the last three decades and the species is protected in the UK in freshwater environments. Juveniles stay in the rivers where they’re born for up to three years before migrating out to sea, later returning to breed.
Vikki Salas, Assistant Director at West Cumbria Rivers Trust, said: “This project has been really important because salmon numbers are in serious decline in the Derwent too. Looking forward we’re working closely with partner organisations to undertake other river restoration projects to improve salmon numbers.”
The Whit Beck project was part of the Cumbria River Restoration Strategy which aims to develop demonstration sites of best practice river restoration.